OPH 275x275The UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences has made enormous strides in the past seven years, thanks in large part to generous gifts from philanthropic partners. Now, additional gifts from these supporters are helping further elevate the department’s top-ranked research program and world-class clinical care.

The EyeSight Foundation of Alabama (ESFA), the International Retinal Research Foundation (IRRF), and UAB have each made a philanthropic commitment to the department’s future with a combined $15 million investment for the next five years. These funds will support translational science and continue the department’s nationally recognized growth.

“These resources will support our thriving, collaborative group of world-class researchers, educators, and clinicians in their mission to deliver outstanding clinical care to our patients; and develop landmark discoveries in vision science; and train the next generation of scientists and clinicians,” says Christopher Girkin, M.D., the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology.

Blackwood Girkin DeKeyserLeft to right: Sandra Blackwood of the International Retinal Research Foundation, Christopher Girkin of UAB Ophthalmology, and Torrey DeKeyser of the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama. In 2012, the School of Medicine collaborated with ESFA—the department’s and university’s largest donor with cumulative gifts of more than $60 million—IRRF, and other charitable foundations and donors to create the Vision of Excellence Initiative. The goal was to cultivate a preeminent research program in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, which is based in Callahan Eye Hospital. At the time, the department had 29 faculty members and was ranked No. 32 in the country in annual funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

The department has far surpassed the Vision of Excellence goals. The faculty has grown to 51, the clinical practice has doubled, and the research program has more than quintupled in size. Its NIH-funded research portfolio now ranks No. 5 in the country, with more than $10.6 million in federal funding.

“It goes without saying that the EyeSight Foundation Board and staff are thrilled with the outcome of our previous investment in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences’ explosive research expansion,” says Torrey DeKeyser, ESFA executive director. “To go from No. 36 to No. 5 in the national rankings so rapidly is nothing short of phenomenal and brings us so much closer to curing blinding eye disease. Likewise, continuing this commitment for another five years is critical in helping support the School of Medicine’s brilliant vision scientists.”

Sandra Blackwood, executive director of IRRF, says its members are excited to make this commitment to sustain support for the department. “The talented individuals who make up the ophthalmology department have proved their dedication to finding the causes and cures of blindness brought on by disease, and we are confident this stellar team’s efforts will continue to advance the science of ophthalmology in a way expected of a top 10 ranked program.”

EFSA and IRRF’s recent investments have jump-started the department’s new 2020 Initiative, which has a goal of raising $10 million from individual donors and community members. UAB Ophthalmology’s growth reflects a strong commitment by school and department leadership. Generous philanthropic support was critical to launching that upward trajectory, and it will continue to play a pivotal role in sustaining the department’s success and assisting in finding cures for blinding eye diseases.

To learn more about supporting the 2020 Initiative, contact Morgan Quarles at (205) 325-8112 or nmrobinson@uabmc.edu.

By Jessica Martindale